Saturday, October 27, 2018

Sermon: Be Still and Know That I Am God

Be Still and Know That I Am God

A mighty fortress is our God, 
A true help in times of terror.
So do not be afraid
—in the face of human violence
—in a world going nowhere fast
Do not be afraid, for the Lord says:
“Be still, and know that I am God.”

Let us pray

In the face of human violence
Do not be afraid, for the Lord says:
“Be still, and know that I am God.”
It’s incomprehensible
—this week there were attempted assassinations of two former presidents, a former secretary of state and a former vice president, and three members of congress (including two who may run for president)—along with some activists and national security officials. We were a hairs breath away from 2018 becoming 1968—the assassination of modern day MLKs and RFKs close at hand.
            If that wasn’t enough, on Wednesday there was the man in Kentucky who tried to do a repeat of the shooting at Emmanuel AME—but when he couldn’t get into the church, he settled on shooting two grandparents to death in a supermarket, because they were black.
            And if that still wasn’t enough, yesterday, out in Pittsburgh, a man attacked Tree of Life synagogue and killed 10 worshipers…
11 worshipers…
it just keeps going up as I write this sermon…
11 worshipers and wounded a bunch more, including the police who eventually stopped him. According to the man’s last social media posts before he attacked, he did so because Tree of Life would partner with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society(the sister organization to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services)—he deemed their aid of refugees as abetting an invasion of America.

In a world going nowhere fast
Do not be afraid, for the Lord says:
“Be still, and know that I am God.”
            Can you believe it was just over a year ago that a man tried to gun down the entire Republican Congressional Baseball Team—it was the biggest attempted political assassination in the history of the country (until this week)—yet it probably took you a second to remember what I was even talking about
—these days, a year ago is so very long ago…
and here’s the thing that troubles me, by next year this time we’ll have forgotten about the horrors of this week
—attempted partisan bombings, a racist and an anti-Semitic shooting.
            It seems like we’re moving at such a pace these days
—pushing ourselves faster and faster
—but with no clear goal,
at least not one that I can see…
I think maybe we’re just rushing on…
because we’re afraid if we stop for a second
we’ll fall over and get stuck under our scooter…
or maybe ‘cause we’d be forced to stop and look at ourselves
—and we might not like what we see very much.
            So we collectively and individually just keep going, just keep doing, doing, doing—filling a void with, to quote the Bard, “sound and fury signifying nothing!”
            I know a family who start each month with a single day free to be together, and inevitably it gets gobbled up before they reach it.
            I know a man who wanted to teach his child about giving and being a good person, and told his kiddo they’d take a day that week to go to a local soup kitchen and serve
—three months later the child asked him why they never did it
He didn’t have an answer
—they just didn’t have time…
there were too many other things to do…

Hey Church!
Do not be afraid, for the Lord says:
“Be still, and know that I am God.”
            It’s easy to say, “What do Jesus’ followers mean in John when they say, ‘we were never slaves to anyone’ when their founding story was the Exodus—escape from slavery in Egypt.”
            But we Church folk do the same thing
—the church so often mirrors the world
—we follow its frantic pace, acting without reflecting,
--sometimes we even ignore hateful viewpoints that undergird violence…
we do so in the name of being nice
… What I’m saying is the best way to catch someone is for them to never see the cage
—we often we do ministry by the world’s rules and we don’t even notice...
And we can’t win that game.
            Two ELCA congregations, one in Dunellen and one in Edison, are voting on whether to close today… and we have to be clear it’s not for lack of trying on their part
—these days, the world as it is, doing things that used to be automatic for a congregation, now take real effort
—just doing the day to day stuff of ministry, is hard,
and doing something special and well…
Well, it takes saving throws and sacrifice.
            Often times as a pastor, it feels like the world looks at me like I’m a buggy whip salesman in an automobile world (not a good feeling I assure you). And so often I respond by working myself sick, with nothing to show for it…
I’m playing the worlds game,
we’re playing the world’s game,
instead of trusting God.

Do not be afraid, for the Lord says:
“Be STILL, and know that I am God.”
            Be still… the root of this word is used 46 times in Hebrew Scriptures, it references everything from laziness, to going slack, to the day drawing to a close, to an angel resting its tired wings.

Walk with me on this:
Let your jaws unclench, 
Drop your shoulders, 
Open your hands up a little bit if they’re closed.
Be still… 

Be still church
Be still—we can’t work our way out of this—and that’s a relief.
Be still—let there be space for God to act.
Be still—don’t listen to the thrum of the world, but the calling of God.
Be still—hear the Spirit speak still.
Be still—it is not our church, but Christ’s Church

Be still world
Be still—take the time to untangle your disordered values.
Be still—so you can be aware of the things that matter.
Be still—the things that matter are rarely things.
Be still—you are human beingsnot human doings.
Be still—look where we’ve gone, even when it is ugly.
Be still—the whole world isn’t on your shoulders.
Be still—honor and be aware of the past and present, before you rush on to the future.

Be still O’ Violent Ones
Be still—please, be still.
Be still—let your hands go slack, so you can let go of your weapons.
Be still—weapons of the spirit alone avail at all.
Be still—for one little word subdues Evil.
Be still—start a journey out of hate.

A mighty fortress is our God, 
A true help in times of terror.
So do not be afraid
—in the face of human violence
—in a world going nowhere fast,
Do not be afraid, for the Lord says:
“Be still, and know that I am God.”

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Sermon: We Don't Do that Here

The Saloon doors swing open, the Big Gun Slingin’ Hombre steps inside, moseys passed the piano and up to the bar—and order a milk—the piano stops, conversation dies, some cowpokes instinctively reach for their guns—and then he adds “in a dirty glass,” and everything is okay again.
—Ordering Milk at a Saloon… we don’t do that here.
         Or think of Arlo Guthrie, he’s at the US Army Building on Whitehall Street in New York City, being inspected for the Draft, and sent over to the Group W bench—where they put everyone who is not considered moral enough to join the army, and the Group W crew want to know why he’s there, and he explains that he was once arrested for littering—and all the criminals step back and don’t want to associate with him, and then he adds, “and creating a nuisance”—and then they are okay with him again…
Being on the group W bench for littering—we don’t do that here.
         Or, in the last Avengers movie, the cadre of superheroes arrive in Wakanda and meet T’challa, the King—Bruce Banner, the Hulk, starts to kneel, but T’challa stops him, saying, “We don’t do that here.”
Bowing to the King in an egalitarian monarchy—we don’t do that here.
         We don’t do that here.

         We don’t do that here.
         One of the distinct features of Mark’s Gospel is that Jesus’ disciples are always reaching for Glory and power—and Jesus continually has to remind them, “We don’t do that here.”
         For the second time in only a few chapters the disciples make a run at being the best disciple
—being the greatest…
the Zebedee brothers come to Jesus and ask to be his right-hand men… and I can just see Jesus saying, “We don’t do that here.”
They have fundamentally misunderstood the nature of who Jesus is, what his ministry is all about, and what the Kingdom of God is…
it’s about humilityall the way through
—lasting the first and firsting the last
—noticing the unnoticed, protecting and cherishing the least…
not lusting after positions of glory, and patting ourselves on the back for getting the best spot and forcing your will on other people—even on God.

         The difference between Jesus’ attitude and that of John and James is so very wide
—Conservative columnist David Brooks, in his book “The Road to Character” writes of a jarring experience
—he was driving home one night and listened to a rebroadcast of a celebrity celebration of America’s victory in World War Two. For such a momentous occasion, and for an event squished full of celebrities and big personalities—the whole thing was understated, no one bragged or boasted, they simply were thankful. 
         Then Brooks went home and turned on the football game—one of the teams gained 2 yards—not a touch down, just a two yard gain—and the players and coaches and fans were falling all over themselves with self-praise and declarations of their gloryand greatness!
         Such a contrast of humility and hubris, such a difference between a country soberly celebrating the defeat of fascism and a sports team celebrating a gain of two yards
—the same kind of contrast as between Jesus and these Zebedee brothers.

         And they don’t stop there—Jesus tries to warn them off, “Really? You can drink the cup I’m being offered by God? You can be baptized to the same horrible calling as I’ve been called to?”
         Sure—they respond. Let us sup with our Lord, let us share in his glorious goal…
         Be careful what you wish for…
         Our Lord was referring to the cup he asks to be taken from him at Gethsemane—his Baptism, his calling—a calling that inevitably leads to the Cross…
         And so too will the lives of his disciples—martyrdom—dying for the confession that Jesus is Lord—and therefore all the earthly lords are not…
in fact, we can read in Acts 12:2 that this very proclamation—Jesus is Lord and you are not—is what got James and John killed by Herod.

         But I’m getting ahead of the story now, aren’t I? Right now James and John are asking for a very different type of life, of calling, of greatness…
they are looking at the kind of greatness that looks good on a Resume
—yeah, I interned under Jesus and then became his Secretary of State after he kicked out the Romans and crowned himself king….
But Jesus isn’t in the resume business—he’s talking about the kind of greatness you find at a Eulogy
—lives measured at the end, at that point it isn’t about your resume or your titles, but your relationships and how well you loved, who you served when no one was looking…
Yes, Jesus was talking about a Eulogy kind of life while they were talking about a Resume kind of life.

         And it would be easy to be like their fellow disciples—angry at their arrogance
—though I’d imagine the other disciples are secretly mad at themselves—that same inclination toward glory and power hubris over humility is in them too
(is in us too, I would add)
they just didn’t get to Jesus first… but we shouldn’t get angry with them or with any of our fellow Christians when they misplace their faith—when they chase glory or serve power
—instead we should see it as a joke, not an offense. What they are doing is like using a cotton swab to paint a barn, or shewing away a fly with a shotgun... they’re not enemies, just embarrassing themselves…
and anyway, we’ll end up doing the same thing sometime, and hopefully people will be gracious with us too.
         They just need to hear Jesus’ calling, saying, “We don’t do that here.”

         We don’t do that here—Jesus’ actions do not need, nor kneel to, nor uphold
power—at least as we understand it
or glory—at least as the world will give
or building up an empire or country or a kingdom
—it is about God through Jesus Chris righting the world,
reconnected us to the source of life,
bringing us back to God’s loving embrace
—Serving and giving his life as a Ransom for many

Atonement is the word we’ve put together in English to describe what Jesus is about!
-Freeing us from Powers that bind us
-absorbing the damage done by our own bad actions and intentions
-showing us how to love—loving us to death and beyond death to resurrection and new life!
That’s what we do here!